The world of e-commerce is continually evolving. Business to business (B2B) online revenue is rapidly catching up to business to consumer (B2C) e-commerce revenue, with B2B expected to reach $800 billion to $1 trillion in 2014--creating a paradigm shift that provides exciting opportunities for online sellers ahead of this shift to either take advantage of it, or fall behind as their competitors embrace the growing online B2B opportunity.

While B2B companies have typically operated in relationship-based models offline, more are moving toward online purchasing--with 86 percent of businesses having moved their offline customers to an online model (Cleverbridge). B2B customers are more likely to build long term relationships with a seller if the overall customer experience is positive. However, attention to the B2B user experience tends to fall short. To build a solid presence in this new environment, B2B companies can learn a great deal from their B2C counterparts.

Recently, a Forrester study found that while 48 percent of surveyed B2B executives think their websites are as good as or better than their online B2B competitors, they don’t think these sites compare well to the ease of shopping on B2C sites like Amazon.com. In fact, 48 percent of participants said their websites performed worse than B2C sites in terms of customer experience. For this reason, 67 percent of these B2B sellers plan to increase their technology budgets to develop the B2C features and boost mobile efforts needed to compete.

People over purchasers

Traditionally, B2B companies tend to view customers as entities, rather than viewing them as individual people. Unfortunately, this causes a seller to discredit the importance of a personal shopping experience. What would happen if the seller shifted the thought process from solely providing a solid price point to providing a quality, personal experience as well?

If sellers take time to engage customers and help them make purchase decisions conveniently and confidently, the results have been proven to be positive.

Define buyer personas

In order to provide a better website experience, B2B sellers should start by defining "customer personas." These profiles will ensure the web team considers the perspectives of various customers when evaluating site improvements and changes. Using these personas allows B2B sellers to also identify the priorities of each customer persona and tailor the e-commerce experience to meet their needs. B2B sellers must identify the positive and negative experiences customers have when shopping online and ask questions like, “What do I want as a buyer? What frustrates customers? Is the website clear? Is it engaging and presentable? Is it easy to navigate?” From there, sellers can begin to understand what their customer groups want and need.

Shifting perspective

Thinking of customers as simply purchasers and not as consumers is one of the most common and expensive mistakes a B2B seller can make. Adopting a B2C perspective is key to being successful and retaining customers long-term. The customer experience in a B2B environment is just as important as the customer experience in the B2C market. As B2B purchasing online is becoming the norm, sellers can’t afford to put the B2B online experience at the bottom of their priority list. Instead, like their B2C counterparts, they should constantly utilize A/B testing strategies for improving website performance using tools like Optimizely--which allows even non-technical staff to edit text, images, colors, arrangement and more. With these changes in place, B2B sellers will be able to compare the modified page’s performance to the original by showing each page to different visitors to see which one performs best. Providing a B2B experience that lives up to what customers have grown accustomed to with leading B2C sites not only benefits the consumer, it also has a tangible payoff for the company through increased conversions and lifts in average order value.

Published on: Oct 1, 2014